Disparities Of The Healthcare System
The coronavirus pandemic is evidence of inequality in the healthcare system. But it is important to recognize that these disparities are not necessarily new. Many groups are suffering disproportionately from COVID-19, including Hispanic/Latinx communities and Native American tribes, but the healthcare system has also historically been biased towards Black people. According to research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Black people are more likely than whites to suffer from high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, and stroke. They are more likely to die from cancer than white people, and Black mothers are more likely to die in childbirth. To emphasize these issues, Black Americans are more likely to be underinsured or lack health insurance, which can make it more difficult to access healthcare. These ongoing disparities display the structural racism of the healthcare system and American society. Structural racism is defined as the systems, institutions, ideologies, and processes that interact with one another to create and reinforce racial inequity. The health disparities of Black people have deep roots in American institutions.
Structural racism affects the health of Black people beyond the healthcare system as well. Research has shown that Black people in the United States are more likely than whites to live in food deserts. Food deserts make it more difficult to access affordable healthy food like fruits and vegetables. They are also more likely to live in areas with limited access to clean air and water. These issues display how structural racism throughout American society is negatively impacting the health of Black people. For equal opportunity in health, the healthcare system must recognize the biases within its structure and actively pursue solutions to address the health disparities among Black people.
Biases Of The COVID-19 Response
Coronavirus cases continue to rise in the United States, recently surpassing 2 million. According to data from the CDC, Black people make up about 22 percent of coronavirus cases, yet are about 13 percent of the U.S. population. Recent data from the APM Research lab has found that Black people have one of the highest mortality rates for this disease and experience a large disproportion of death. These disparities are driven by biases in the COVID-19 response.
There is evidence that healthcare professionals are less likely to take Black people’s health complaints seriously, that Black people have less access to tests and medical treatment, and that government officials have not accurately recorded demographic data for those affected by COVID-19. Because they are less likely to be tested and are left out of demographic data, Black communities are lacking the resources and information necessary to combat the pandemic. Combined with economic issues, such as lacking access to health insurance or having low-income essential jobs in which self-isolating is impossible, Black people are at higher risk of infection.
As the pandemic continues to impact the United States, some solutions to mitigate its effects include more testing and protecting essential workers. By having more tests, communities have more information on who is infected, including those who are asymptomatic. Also, protecting essential workers, which includes large numbers of Black workers, is a necessary step for limiting coronavirus. This can include basic measures such as providing personal protective equipment, like disposable gloves and face masks, but also involves wider, systemic change. Changes for more long-term protection of workers should include having better wages for those who can’t stay home, more access to health insurance and healthcare, and paid sick leave.
While these solutions can help fight the coronavirus, they can also help initiate change within the healthcare system. To improve a racist system, there must be large, systemic changes that include more access to health insurance and healthcare. But changes must continue to be made within this institution and throughout American society even after the pandemic has ended. The healthcare system must diversify, recognize the biases and inequalities in its structure, and ensure Black voices are amplified and listened to when addressing structural racism.
All people should have equal opportunity to health care and the ability to live a healthy lifestyle. The healthcare system must address the issues that unequally impact certain groups or communities. But it also needs to actively pursue widespread, institutional change to fight the coronavirus and ensure no one disproportionately suffers from health issues in the United States.